Concentrate on the Boros Mirror — PTQ Two and Out

Boros Deck Wins. That’s more than a deck-name… it’s a fact. Swinging with the Little Red and White Men is a noble pursuit, but it is also extremely popular. With the mirror-match descending into little more than a coin flip, what exactly can we do to gain those important percentage points that’ll translate into game and match wins? With detailed description of his recent PTQ performance, Paul tries to smash the mirror into pieces.

After playing Boros in the first Top8Magic mock tournament and posting a 3-1 record (losing in a mirror match), I decided I enjoyed the deck enough to put some work into it. Thanks to countless others, the deck already has a strong game against a large portion of the expected playing field. What I really wanted to do was to figure out a way to gain a discernable advantage in the mirror match. Most current builds are packing eight or more Protection from Red creatures, and multiple game-breaking enhancers for said flame-retardant critters in the form of Umezawa’s Jitte and Armadillo Cloak. Some versions were even skewing towards the inclusion of up to ten two-power Akromas, and the more controlling Worship.

This meant that there were three areas of focus to attack with my sideboard plan, while also including as many threats as possible. Jitte, Cloak/Worship, and Pro-Red were all huge problems. Surprisingly, Jitte was the least problematic, as generally the two decks were packing the same number of legendary equipment cards, and if she drew hers first that meant mine just became a really slow Disenchant. Cloak and Worship though, were basically game over when in conjunction with a Red-hating bear. The only “out” to a Cloak was to have two of your own bears to block, or one of them plus threshold plus your single Barbarian Ring. You could also, arguably, race a Cloak with one of your own. Or maybe get enough counters in a Jitte to kill off their guy. The singleton Ring also being your only answer to a Worship, and then only if they have only drawn one of their eight-plus hard-lock combo pieces.

Things weren’t looking good, as the way it looked now the mirror was basically a race to draw a sideboard card, and then to hope your opponent doesn’t answer with one of his. The only source for card advantage is Firebolt (Lavamancer is never around long enough to be card advantageous) or an active Jitte. And Firebolt wasn’t even that great, as there were very few legitimate targets (the face across the table usually being a very legitimate one). Assuming both players are at least marginally intelligent (too big of an assumption?), the mirror was really kind of dumb luck. I hate to say that, as there are certainly other contributing factors, but with the current configuration where your only answers to their trump cards are your own and neither deck can effectively out strategize the other, it really is more luck-based than your average mirror match.

I hate luck-based pairings. I wanted something(s) that would change how things were going. First let’s look again at where the list started.

Boros Deck Wins
By Frank Karsten

4 Wooded Foothills
4 Windswept Heath
2 Flooded Strand
1 Bloodstained Mire
1 Stomping Ground
1 Temple Garden
4 Sacred Foundry
1 Barbarian Ring
2 Forge[/author]“]Battlefield [author name="Forge"]Forge[/author]
1 Plains
1 Mountain

4 Kird Ape
4 Grim Lavamancer
4 Savannah Lions
2 Isamaru, Hound of Konda
4 Soltari Priest
4 Silver Knight
4 Firebolt
4 Sudden Shock
4 Lightning Helix
4 Molten Rain

4 Pyrostatic Pillar
4 Ancient Grudge
4 Umezawa’s Jitte
3 Armadillo Cloak

With this build, I had been siding in three Cloaks, four Jitte, and usually one Grudge, taking out four Molten Rain and four Grim Lavamancer. This plan mostly closed the Jitte hole, but ignored the Cloak/Worship and Pro-Red issues, opting instead for crossing one’s fingers. Driving home from the second mock tournament (where I also went 3-1, losing to Affinity) I was trying to figure out how to get rid of those annoying bears, as they were at the crux of each of my problems (if all of their creatures are dead, I don’t care about Jitte, Cloak, or Worship). Initially I thought of maybe bringing in Pyrite Spellbomb. It seemed effective at what I was looking to do. Looking at the sideboard though, I realized that there wasn’t really room for these. They also seemed a little one-dimensional, as there weren’t any other pairings that called for a two-mana two colorless damage spell. I knew I wanted to keep the Jitte/Cloak plan myself, and the remaining cards in the sideboard were very necessary. Right around this time, I realized that I needed to make room in the maindeck for some of the sideboard cards, so that I could have more room in the sideboard for even more mirror-hate.

The most likely candidate for a promotion to the maindeck was Jitte. It serves as a threat against other decks and doesn’t open you up to bad trades via Wrath or a bounce spell. I set out with a goal to find two spots for Jitte in the main. One Firebolt was the first – and easiest – cut. The next is probably a little controversial. I took out a Savannah Lion. I felt that the deck would still pack enough punch minus one of its turn 1 plays. In order to get better in the mirror, sacrifices have to be made.

I now had two spots open in the SB. I liked the idea of Spellbombs, but was pretty sure something better had to be available. Red cards were useless. White wasn’t much better at creature removal. I though of Serrated Arrows, but it seemed slow-ish, especially if they had a Knight. They could definitely pants up their guy before the Arrows were online. I finally remembered one of Mike Flores favorite mid-range cards of all time, baby-FTK (a.k.a. Thornscape Battlemage). It was a Green source of damage to deal with asbestos-wrapped bears, and could double-up on value by binning a Jitte. Oh, and he’s a beater. Basically, he’s a green Concentrate. I was very excited about this card; it seemed to have it all.

Having theoretically solved for the first two problem areas, the only remaining one was Cloak. Curing Cloak also added the splash damage of stopping Worship, which I was suddenly worried about after learning that Mike was posting his G/W deck before the PTQ. Krosan Grip is currently in vogue for those times when you just have to kill an enchantment. Three mana was a lot though, especially since I was already adding in the Battlemages, which were obviously a little slower. The next best option was Ray of Revelation, with which I was pleased. It did the job in the mirror, and for random Worship decks, since I was only playing two at most I could kill up to four problem enchantments. To make room in the ‘board I made the ultimate sacrifice of the remaining Jittes. In the mirror, I’d have fewer pants, but way more ways to manage their pants (and the people who wear them). This left a final decklist of:

I felt pretty good about the deck going into the tournament. And, as usual, was able to get the cards from Tony Tsai. The car was set with me, Mike, Steve Sadin, Julian-I-have-so-many-names-Levin and Asher Hecht, who’s even younger than Julian-I-have-so-many-names-Levin. Here’s the email I sent out to the mailing list:

PTQ information for those going. Current roll call is:

PJ — driver
MichaelJ “Writer of the Year” Flores – shotgun, navigator, narrator and DJ
Sadin – right or left passenger seat, his choice
Julian & Asher – fighting for who isn’t [stuck in the middle]
Show up at NG at 7:30 in the AM sharp. Mike – I’ll be driving “by” your house so can pick you up. If you choose this option, be ready @ 6:45 AM.

And here’s the conversation that took place Saturday morning at 6:50 AM.

Mike: I’m waiting outside
Me: I buffered you
Mike: What?
Me: In case you were late, I buffered you. I’ll be there at seven.
Mike: Oh. I’m going to Starbucks.

Mike is the person on this particular trip most likely to be functioning within his own personal timeframe, totally at odds with the real world. Hence, when quoting times to him, I give a fifteen-minute buffer zone (e.g. 6:45 = 7:00). Usually his wife, K, points this out and ruins it for us, making him know the real time and then showing up after it. This time, however, she didn’t. In addition, Mike was on time. This meant he was actually early. Bad beat.

The car ride was uneventful, featuring various iPods trying to find inspirational songs. We went through a number of them, ranging from the theme to Rocky (the actual theme, not Eye of the Tiger) to The Game by Motorhead to Welcome to the Jungle by Guns ‘N’ Roses and even We Will Rock You by Queen. There were others, sure, but those are what I remember. We arrived, after the requisite wrong-turn-ask-the-cops-how-to-get-there interlude. The standard fare of scouring for the few cards we couldn’t find for our five collective decks was pretty smooth, and wouldn’t you know it we were ready to play soon thereafter.


Round 1 — Affinity
The first game I messed up pretty well. The board position was as such: he had two Frogmites, a 1/1 Ravager, a Chromatic Sphere and three artifact lands (all tapped). I had a Grim Lavamancer and a Priest, with four lands that could produce basically any mana I needed, four cards in my bin to feed the Lava Man, a Firebolt and a Helix in hand, along with two other creatures. I wanted to kill his Ravager, because those things tend to be trouble.

What I did: Firebolt the Ravager. He responded by sacrificing the Sphere, which I let resolve. He then sacrificed a land, to which I responded with a Helix. He responded with sacrificing a land, and I responded with a Lavamancer shot. At this point he can’t save the ravager. He could, however, sacrifice any number of other artifacts to make his Frogmite bigger. He chose not to, and was happy with a 4/4.

What I should have done: Firebolt the Ravager. In response to the first sacrifice, Helix the Ravager. At this point the only thing he can do is let it die, and I can respond with Lava Man when he targets a Frogmite for the Ravager’s counter. This leaves him with just a 2/2 Frogmite that I can kill next turn with Mr. Grim.

So I lost that game. In game 2 I got two Cloaks on a Silver Knight. In game 3 I used Ancient Grudge and Thornscape Battlemage to completely wipe his board away and send in with an eventually cloaked Priest.

Round 2 — Trinket Angels
We played some attrition for a short while. I ended up getting out a Grim Lavamancer, which was about to start cleaning up his board when he was active, but he ripped the Pithing Needle. I proceeded to draw two more Grim Lavamancers and lose pretty easily.

I sideboarded, bringing in three Battlemages and three Cloaks for four Molten Rains and two Soltari Priests. I would later realize that I should take out two Lions instead of the Priests, as he had Fire/Ice in his deck. In game 2 I got down a Cloak early on a Silver Knight and he couldn’t find an answer. He eventually got down a Scepter on Helix, but it was too late as he was way too far behind.

Game 3 was similar to game 2. It took me a while to find the Cloak, and he played out an Engineered Explosives when he couldn’t immediately activate it, giving me a window to kill it, which I promptly did.

Round 3 — TEPS
I kept a hand with two Kird Apes and no Forest. I lost out on three total damage from only attacking with a 1/1 instead of a 2/3, but it would have left him at seven life when he went off easily on turn 4 instead of ten life. In game 2 he started with five cards and I had The Draw of bear, bear, Molten Rain, bear, Pillar. Game 3 saw another good draw from me, this time on the draw. He had a Lotus this time, but missed his second, third and fourth land drops. I destroyed his only land, but didn’t have a Pillar. He proceeded to go off without the assistance of a land. At this point I began to wonder why I wasn’t playing that deck.

This match was one of few where I thought there was nothing I could have done differently. The only thing close was to mulligan the opening hand. It had two lands, two Kird Apes, a Silver Knight, a Helix, and a Molten Rain. Not knowing the matchup, and being on the play, I don’t see how I can ship that hand back. Any land gives me pressure followed by a Rain — most lands make my Apes big and probably put the game out of reach. Likewise, I don’t think that a six-card hand would have been able to win game 1. This was the first time in a while that I have felt entirely outclassed in deck strength.

Round 4 — Boros
It was only a matter of time before I was in a mirror match. I was hoping I would have a chance for my Battlemages to shine. He was on the play in game 1, also down a card. He opened with Silver Knight on turn 2, and Armadillo Cloak on turn 3. Well, that was quick. In game 2 I got out a Cloak. He needed to topdeck one of his own to stay in the game, which he did (obv). When he did though, I calmly played a Ray and it was over. Game 3 I opened strong with some pro-Red guys, but kept drawing lands. Conversely, he was land light, so I knew if he began to draw lands he would destroy me with all of the what-must-be-amazing-spells in his grip. Sure enough, he played out a Cloak and followed it up with a Jitte. I, again, drew a land.

I felt I had a good deck advantage after board in this one. His deck was still running Goblin Legionnaires and he only had three Priests in his deck. I had Battlemages, Rays, Jittes and Cloaks. He also kept in his Lavamancers after sideboarding, and he had Pillages as his artifact removal. Two matches in a row where I literally don’t think I could have done anything differently to affect the outcome of the game. This really bothered me. I always try to learn from my losses (and my victories) so that I don’t repeat any mistakes I made. This time though, I didn’t learn anything. At least not from my losses. Put in the same games, I’d make the same plays and lose the same way. I have to admit; I’m a little bothered by this.

I did at least learn the better way to play against Ravager from round 1, so it wasn’t a total bust. I also got to see a true rarity in Magic. Watching Julian play against Goblins in the final round (they were playing for a 6-1-1 record, likely good for ninth or tenth, since there were 198 people at the PTQ) his opponent was on the play and just said, “Go.” Julian was confused, but ran with it. On turn 2, however, his opponent played Mox, Rite, Rite, Song, Needle, Needle, and Empty the Warrens for fourteen critters. Nice format. That made two games I saw that day where somebody won without lands. I’m all for combo, but that seems extreme.

The next day I was chatting with Jon Becker during a MTGO draft. Here’s how it started:

Jon: How’d the PTQ go?
Me: I 3-0’d my draft

Not much to talk about in the draft. When you get passed Draining Whelk in pack 1 and open Teferi in pack 2, you should be pretty well set. I was. I proceeded to 3-0 my two drafts online as well, both times being one of two Blue drafters at the table and getting some insane decks (one deck had Whelk, two Ephemeron, two Riftwing Cloudskate, two Deepwalkers, Brine Elemental, and two Fathom Seers; the other had three Fathom Seer, Ephemeron, Cloudskate, two Brine Elemental, two Deepwalker).

If I were to play in another PTQ, I would probably make room for maindeck Cloaks, as they are amazing in a lot of pairings. I would take out the Jittes and 2 Molten Rains. I would also add a Lion back in at the cost of a Firebolt. The SB would be three Ray, four Pillar, two Jitte, three Ancient Grudge, three Battlemage. Chances are that I will not be playing in another Extended PTQ though. I’m moving next month, and getting married in April. There are a lot of weekend appointments that go along with a wedding, apparently. I’m currently working on the language of a contract that will allow me to attend GP: Boston to kick off the “team” season (dear DCI — bring back three-man Team Limited. These other team formats suck). I’ll still be writing… although I’m not sure how much.